Ignorance Rages at CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place this week. Billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation, it is known for giving participants a chance to kick the tires of potential presidential candidates.

This year is no exception. The list of confirmed speakers reads like a primary ballot for 2012 or 2016, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rick Santorum.

When I read through these names, I realized that every single likely candidate in the early GOP field is claiming to believe that climate change does not exist or opposes doing anything about it. Climate denying has become a litmus test to the far right wing of the Republican Party – what a sad commentary when there is a tacit requirement for someone to REJECT SCIENCE in order to even be in the running to win the nomination.

Take Senator John Thune of South Dakota.  When asked his view on climate science, he said, “I guess the answer to the question is I’m not sure. I think there’s a real mix of data on that.” Representative Ron Johnson of Wisconsin goes farther. He claims that record spikes in temperature are the result of “sunspot activity” – an idea that scientists have checked and explicitly rejected.

And that’s just two CPAC speakers. The entire conference seems dedicated to walking America backwards.
Most of the conference speakers decried the comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that Congress abandoned last year.  It would have unleashed technological innovation and generated nearly 2 million jobs. Representative Michelle Bachman urged the people of Minnesota to be “armed and dangerous over this issue.” And most of them have spoken out against the EPA’s efforts to make our air safer by reducing carbon pollution. Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the agency altogether, while his fellow CPAC speaker Senator Barasso introduced a bill that would, in effect, prevent states and every federal agency from doing anything at all based on concern about climate change. That goes even further than Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill that would block EPA from limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  Inhofe – who infamously called climate change a “hoax” – has been joined in his effort by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the former moderate who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
This position may generate applause lines at CPAC, but it is out of step with what Americans want. According to a new poll  done by Opinion Research Corporation for NRDC, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.”

The folks at CPAC fail to see how cleaner air and climate solutions will take America into the future. Instead of embracing sustainable energy resources, they prefer burning black rocks like we’ve done since the 19th century. Instead of putting American companies at the forefront of the 21st century global marketplace, they prefer to keep us addicted to ever diminishing supplies of oil.
This U-turn into the past will put America in a dangerous position. Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed devastating floods in Pakistan that further destabilized an already precarious nation, we have watched Russia endure a punishing drought that economist Paul Krugman linked to both climate change and rising food prices, and we have seen Australians battle a flood that submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined. We can’t tie any single weather occurrence to climate change, but scientists have repeatedly stated that more severe weather events are a hallmark of what human beings are doing to the climate.

CPAC speakers like to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, but what the facts on the ground reveal are impossible to ignore. And the GOP can continue to build its house of cards on a bunch of deniers, but most Americans want to build a safer, more sustainable future.

This blog was originally posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark Up.



Silver Linings and Other Takeaways from the Election

Despite the anti-incumbent, frustrated mood of yesterday’s elections, there are some silver linings and some important messages for the months ahead. 
In California, voters overwhelmingly rejected Big Oil’s attempt to circumvent the most important climate law in the nation. This is an incredibly significant development. For the first time, VOTERS got to have direct input into whether or not they want to move forward with climate solutions. They gave a full-throated call for building the clean energy future in California. 
Still, you probably won’t hear much about this resounding victory because some pundits will view it as a wacky, West Coast aberration. But think about it: if the fossil fuel guys had won, the media would have been trumpeting the death of environmentalism, and industry allies in Congress would have been citing the vote as reason to abandon climate legislation. And you can call California “liberal,” but it is also the state with the third largest unemployment rate in the nation. If voters thought clean energy hurt the economy, we wouldn’t have won. 
But voters know that clean energy means good things for our economy, and the California vote proves it. Unfortunately, the federal races were less clear. 

We saw the House flip last night and several of our climate champs were defeated – but so were many lawmakers who had voted AGAINST climate change.  

In Virginia, we saw Congressmen Tom Perriello (VA-5) and Rick Boucher (VA-9) go down. Both supported the climate bill. But, it’s not easy to figure out how much of a factor climate was in those races. We also saw Rep. Glenn Nye (VA-2) bite the dust and he was a vocal opponent of the clean energy legislation.  

Same thing in Ohio. We lost Rep. John Boccieri (OH-16) who voted for the House bill, but Rep. Charlie Wilson (OH-6), an outspoken critic, also went down. Meanwhile Rep. Betty Sutton (OH-13) actively defended her vote for clean energy and cruised to reelection. Other Ohio Reps like Zack Space (OH-18) lost their jobs, but they had tried to play both sides of the fence. Space voted for the climate bill, but then tried to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from actually addressing global warming. You can’t have it both ways in an election year when people are looking for leadership.  

Yet another example is found in Pennsylvania where we saw clean energy advocate Patrick Murphy (PA-8) defeated and Chris Carney (PA-10), an opponent of our issues, also handed his walking papers. 

In race after race, we found voters kicking out the incumbents regardless of their stance on energy. Yet leaders on the issue in the Senate like Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid won.  

So, clean energy and climate change probably wasn’t a factor in most races. In the end, this election came down to one thing: the economy.  

Our stumbling economy continues to be on the minds of every working family in the country. They are worried about losing their jobs, their homes, and any sense of security that they may have created. The promise of clean energy provides a lot of hope for our stumbling economy and the American people believe that, regardless of who is in charge.

So, we will continue to work. Congress is going to have to take up mandatory bills on spending, infrastructure and agriculture. There are opportunities to make great progress on renewables, adaptation, efficiency and a plethora of other clean energy areas in all of those pieces of legislation. It will be a tough road, but a road worth taking.




Minnesota Voters Think for Themselves

Campaign season typically invites all kinds of armchair commentary about what voters want, and this year is proving to be fertile ground for unsubstantiated theorizing which quickly becomes “conventional wisdom” – with or without evidence.

Conventional wisdom may be comforting, but it doesn’t tell us much about the world as it really is. After all, conventional wisdom used to hold that the Earth is flat and at the center of the universe. (Some candidates – not naming any names here – may still believe both, actually.)

This election season, it has become popular to claim that candidates who supported clean energy legislation are less likely to be reelected because of that support. But there’s little, if any, data to support that claim. 

Two recent polls, conducted by Public Policy Polling that we are releasing today, cover races in Minnesota’s 1st and 6th districts where things are pretty tight and the "conventional wisdom" is proving dead wrong.

The poll found that an overwhelming 77% of voters support investments in clean, renewable energy. That compares to only 44% who favor building more nuclear power plants and 40% who are interested in more coal.

Furthermore, 51% of respondents are more likely to support a candidate who supported an energy bill that would “create millions of new jobs, reduce our use of foreign oil, hold corporate polluters accountable and cut the pollution that causes climate change.” Only 29% said such a vote would make them less likely to support such a candidate – an advantage of 22 percentage points for clean energy supporters.

Fortunately, this isn't news to Congressman Tim Walz – who did support the very piece of legislation described and who talks about the issue right on his campaign website:

With oil prices reaching another record high…the time for action on renewable energy and American energy independence is now. Ending our dependence on foreign oil and using renewable energy to help fight global warming will make our nation stronger. And at a time when our economy is struggling, these investments will help create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”

Obviously Walz and his constituents understand that clean energy and climate legislation makes our nation stronger, creates jobs at home and reduces pollution. 

Which leads us to our other race, MN-6, where all of this sounds like tyranny to incumbent, Michele Bachmann. She has characterized the House-passed clean energy bill as a take-over of "every aspect" of people's lives which, I hope we can universally agree, is the exaggeration of the century. 

But then, Bachmann (who is also the chair of the House Tea Party Caucus), is well-known for fear-mongeringand spreading misinformation about the science and costs of addressing climate change. That’s consistent with her fierce opposition to all kinds of environmental initiatives. The League of Conservation Voters named Bachmann as one of its Dirty Dozen and awarded her zero points during the 111th Congress. According to LCV’s scorecard, Bachmann has not only failed to support any pro-environment bills, but she has also actively undermined funding existing programs.

Congresswoman Bachmann’s own legislative initiatives champion the “drill, baby, drill” approach to destroying Federal lands, risking more offshore drilling accidents and dumping more and more pollution into our atmosphere. Her major donors include the Citizens United PAC, Eric Cantor’s Every Republican is Crucial PAC, and other conservative organizations and fossil fuel front groups.

According to our polling, Representative Bachmann’s radical views put her out of step with her district, despite the heavy dose of Tea Party propaganda that constantly flows from Bachmann and her allies. Just a few little tidbits from our poll:

Voters in Bauchmann's district favor investments in renewables (64%) over building more nuclear power plants (54%) and favor investing in new technology over using more coal (47%).

And when we asked voters if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who would support a clean energy bill, we found that 47% would be more likely, while only 38% would be less likely (the other 16% didn't really care or weren't sure). Seems pretty compelling to me. (Those polled were told, “Supporters say the energy bill will create millions of new jobs, reduce our use of foreign oil, hold corporate polluters accountable and cut the pollution that causes climate change. Opponents say the bill will cost companies money and is like an energy tax that would actually reduce jobs.”)     

These kinds of results aren't a surprise. In poll after poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and released last week by NRDC Action Fund, the indisputable fact is that the majority of voters support Congressional efforts to address climate change. And why wouldn't they when one considers that a bill like this would mean more jobs, greater security and less pollution. Despite the opposition's best (or should I say, worst) intentions, the public – and more importantly for candidates, the voters – get it.

Virginians want clean energy and politicians who will make it happen

According to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and released this week by the NRDC Action Fund, voters across the country by a wide margin are more likely to vote for someone who supports clean energy legislation -- Virginians are no exception.

In the two Virginia districts -- the 5th and the 9th -- many more voters questioned said they are more likely to vote for a candidate that stood up for a clean energy bill than less likely. When asked the following question, we found great results:

Congress is considering an energy bill to move America towards a new energy future including investments in wind and solar power. Supporters say the energy bill will create millions of new jobs, reduce our use of foreign oil, hold corporate polluters accountable and cut the pollution that causes climate change. Opponents say the bill will cost companies money and is like an energy tax that would actually reduce jobs. Do you agree more with supporters of the energy bill or opponents of the energy bill?

VA-5 Results
Agree more with supporters.............................49%
Agree more with opponents..............................34%
Not sure................................................................17%

VA-9 Results
Agree more with supporters..............................47%
Agree more with opponents..............................31%
Not sure.................................................................22%

And in both districts over two-thirds of voters polled thought favorably about investing in clean, renewable energy like wind and solar power, equaling or exceeding the favorable response to new technologies that use more coal.

Maybe that’s because Virginians know that investing in clean energy will mean more jobs at home, more money in their pockets, and a stronger state economy.

This is good news for Congressmen Perriello (VA-5) and Boucher (VA-9). Both supported the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a clean energy bill that would bring 50,000 additional jobs to the state over the next decade increase annual Virginia household income by over $1,300, and boost the state’s real GDP by $3.2 billion over the same time period.

Over 50% of the voters polled in Virginia also said that reducing dependence on foreign oil should be a top energy priority for the government.

Fortunately, the same clean energy legislation Perriello and Boucher backed will increase our nation’s security by investing in cleaner cars and renewable energy so we can stop mortgaging our children’s future to buy oil from countries that don’t share our values.

But some don’t seem to agree that Virginians should keep more money in their pockets and have a cleaner environment. In recent months, Congressmen Perriello and Boucher have come under attack for their bold steps to create jobs and increase our security by their challengers’ campaigns.

Congressman Perriello’s Republican challenger, Robert Hurt, has embraced all of his party’s old tricks. Opponents of clean energy and climate action fought dirty in VA-5 when Perriello voted for the clean energy bill, and continue to do so now -- using claims that have been debunked by NRDC economists for their deceptive conclusions.

H. Morgan Griffith, Congressman Boucher’s Republican challenger, has gone even further, denying the science of climate change and claiming that legislation will cost jobs in the coal industry. That doesn’t make much sense considering it was Congressman Boucher who negotiated on behalf of the industries vital to Virginia’s 9th District (a deal, by the way, that the NRDC Action Fund was less than thrilled about). My goodness, the coal guys are even running ads in his favor!

The numbers tell a different story. Virginians favor moving ahead with creating a safer, healthier and economically stronger future for their families and communities. This means Virginians are ready to tackle energy issues by making a commitment to renewable power and clean energy jobs. And they want their elected officials to do the same.

Voters Overwhelmingly Support Clean Energy Candidates

Americans know a good idea when they see one. No matter how many millions of dollars the deep-pocketed polluters spend on spreading mistruths this election season, new polling released by the NRDC Action Fund today shows that voters in 23 close Congressional races overwhelmingly support clean energy legislation and would be more likely to support candidates who do the same.

In fact, our polls found on average voters are almost 20% MORE likely to vote for someone who supports a clean energy bill. This may not sound like a lot, but in a year where 92 Congressional races sit in the "lean" or "tossup" columns on The Cook Political Report, that 20% not only counts, it is a big deal. In fact, a majority of voters (almost 53% on average) in tight races around the country said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports a climate bill.

Still, the news for clean energy gets better.

We don't believe that voters will fall for the fossil fuel industry's misleading claims. That is why we went head-to-head to test our messaging against what the industry has been saying. Our poll presented our opposition's main, misleading talking point - that a climate bill is akin to an energy tax. Voters overwhelmingly (spread +18.8%) rejected this idea in favor of a bill that creates millions of new jobs, reduces our use of foreign oil, holds corporate polluters accountable and cuts the pollution that causes climate change.

In some races, the difference is even more pronounced. In Iowa's Third District (IA-3), currently represented by Congressman Leonard Boswell, voters were more likely to support the candidate who supported a clean energy bill by 33 percentage points! Voters there agreed with pro-clean energy messaging 62% of the time. In the Pennsylvania’s Eighth District (PA-8), currently represented by Congressman Patrick Murphy, voters were more likely to support the candidate who supported clean energy by 19 percentage points and voters favored the green message 58% of the time.

These are really significant results because time and again, a majority of likely voters are on the side of clean energy. You have to remember that opponents of clean energy are pouring millions into front groups who are spreading misinformation about the issues. We can’t even come close to their per capita spending. And yet clean energy legislation is still polling ahead in nearly every bellwether district. And Americans still see clean energy for what it is: a great investment in our nation’s future.

I guess there really are some things money can’t buy, even in politics. Despite dumping $175 million into the political system in 2009 and $74.5 million in 2010 and donating more than $7 million to candidates last quarter, the oil and gas industry still can’t persuade the public that it’s not better for America to move ahead with cleaner energy alternatives. 

Even in a coal state like Ohio, voters support renewables by double digits over coal and nukes. A great example is Ohio’s Sixteenth District (OH-16), currently represented by Congressman John Boccieri, where our poll found that 69% of people support investments in renewables, besting coal at 58%. We found similar results in almost every district we polled, like Pennsylvania Eleven (PA-11), currently represented by Congressman Paul Kanjorski, where 73% favor investing in renewables compared to 62% who want more coal. Even way down in South Carolina’s Fifth District (SC-5), currently represented by Congressman John Spratt, voters are more favorable to investing in renewables at 72% than coal at 57%.

So the question becomes, why aren't those who voted for a climate bill winning? Why is the opposition focused on painting this vote as a negative? There are a lot of answers but I think most agree this is an anti-incumbent year where most politicos expect poor turnout. I think many would also agree that climate champions have spent too much time running away from this issue instead of educating their voters about why this was not only a good vote for the environment, but also for our national security and economy. These poll results suggest they better get their act together because they are missing an opportunity. Voters are primed to embrace candidates who show leadership on this issue.

Opponents of clean energy will continue to write fat checks, but the climate champions clearly have the advantage if they play their cards right because voters support renewable power, economic growth, green jobs, and clean air -- that’s priceless and that is one way to win.

All 23 polls can be found at http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/polls/</a>.


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